Manuel Pellegrini, the Manchester City manager, has claimed his team will be refreshed and ready for the challenge of Middlesbrough after a week in Abu Dhabi.
The Premier League champions were due to arrive back in this country last night having flown to the United Arab Emirates for a five-day warm-weather training camp straight after Sunday’s frustrating defeat to Arsenal.
Their trip included a friendly against German side Hamburg but they were only due to return to Manchester with less than 24 hours to get over their flight before they have to face Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fourth round today.
Some have questioned the wisdom of the mid-season venture given the travelling involved, but Pellegrini does not think the long-haul flight will adversely affect preparation.
The Chilean said: “We are not worried about the travelling element. There is only a few hours difference between and we will return to the CFA [City Football Academy] on Friday and prepare for the game as normal.
“It was the right time to have a break and we’ve enjoyed our stay in Abu Dhabi. Last January we played eight or nine games so it was important to have this time so we can return refreshed.”
The trip may have come at a cost with former England midfielder Frank Lampard withdrawn 20 minutes into the Hamburg match as a precaution after suffering an injury in the warm-up.
That might make him doubtful for the Middlesbrough match at the Etihad but the problem is reportedly not serious and Lampard is expected to be fit to face his former club and title rivals Chelsea next week.
But while Lampard may sit out this weekend for fitness reasons, Pellegrini has no great plans to rest his big names.
He said: “Of course there are always opportunities for players to impress and stake a claim for a place, but we are playing on Saturday and then not in midweek. We will have a full week to recover before we play Chelsea, so with that in mind I will try and put out the strongest team I can.”
Middlesbrough head to the Etihad in good form having lost just once in their last 15 matches. They are now second in the Championship following a 2-1 win over Cardiff on Tuesday.
City can boast similar statistics themselves having hit form since November but the 2-0 Arsenal defeat has just robbed the team of momentum and left them trailing Chelsea by five points.
Pellegrini therefore sees no room for complacency today – and told his team they must believe they can win without Yaya Touré after failing to do so in the four league games he has missed this season.
Touré is currently on international duty with Ivory Coast at the African Nations Cup and his departure has coincided with City losing to Arsenal and drawing with Everton in their last two Premier League outings.
The only other two league games he has missed this season have ended in draws with Burnley last month and Arsenal earlier in the campaign.
“He is very important player for us,” the Chilean added. “But for the moment we must continue playing and not thinking it is impossible to win without him because I don’t think this team depends on just one player.”
On Middlesbrough’s threat, Pellegrini said: “They are well organised and don’t concede many goals so unless we play with 100 per cent intensity and concentration we will find it difficult to progress into the next round of the FA Cup.
“I expect a tough game because Middlesbrough are doing very well in the Championship. I know their manager Aitor Karanka very well and he is doing an excellent job so far.
“Middlesbrough may not be a Premier League team but they are fighting to win promotion and this will be a very difficult match and we need to be at our best to win.
“We are not in the Capital One Cup anymore,” Pellegrini added, “and we want to do well in this competition because it was disappointing to lose in the quarter-final last season.”
Aside from Lampard, City have no other new injury worries. Midfielder Samir Nasri is likely to be out for another fortnight with his calf injury sustained before the game against Arsenal.
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